Fodor's Expert Review Buland Darwaza (Great Gate)

Fatehpur Sikri Notable Building

The usual starting point for exploring Fatehpur Sikri is the Buland Darwaza (Great Gate) of the Jama Masjid, near the parking lot, but the cluster of hawkers and guides nearby can be unrelenting. If you arrive by car, you can avoid this minor annoyance by asking to be dropped at the subsidiary entrance at the northeastern end of the city, where the following tour begins. Coming from Agra, bear right just after passing through Agra Gate, the main one in Akbar's day. The tour ends at the Great Gate, so have your driver meet you there.

Approaching the Fatehpur Sikri complex, you'll walk through the Naubat Khana, a gate that was manned by drummers and musicians during imperial processions. Just ahead on the right is the Mint, a workshop that may have minted coins.

A few steps from the museum is the Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience), a large courtyard 112 meters long and 55 meters wide (366 feet by 181 feet) with colonnades on three sides. Ahead is the balcony where the... READ MORE

The usual starting point for exploring Fatehpur Sikri is the Buland Darwaza (Great Gate) of the Jama Masjid, near the parking lot, but the cluster of hawkers and guides nearby can be unrelenting. If you arrive by car, you can avoid this minor annoyance by asking to be dropped at the subsidiary entrance at the northeastern end of the city, where the following tour begins. Coming from Agra, bear right just after passing through Agra Gate, the main one in Akbar's day. The tour ends at the Great Gate, so have your driver meet you there.

Approaching the Fatehpur Sikri complex, you'll walk through the Naubat Khana, a gate that was manned by drummers and musicians during imperial processions. Just ahead on the right is the Mint, a workshop that may have minted coins.

A few steps from the museum is the Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience), a large courtyard 112 meters long and 55 meters wide (366 feet by 181 feet) with colonnades on three sides. Ahead is the balcony where the emperor sat on his throne to meet subjects or observe celebrations and other spectacles. Through chiseled marble screens, the women of the court would watch as Akbar, the empire's chief justice, hand down his decisions: it's said that those condemned to die were impaled, hanged, or trampled under the feet of an elephant. What looks like a square two-story building with domed cupolas at each corner is the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience). Inside it's actually one tall room where Akbar sat on an elaborate elevated platform and, it's thought, conducted meetings with his ministers. Supported by a stone column topped with a giant lotus flower intricately carved in stone, it's connected by causeways to four balconies with window seats on which the ministers sat. The throne's position is thought to have symbolized the center of the world or, alternatively, the one god sought by several major religions; it also may have had a practical side, shielding the emperor from would-be assassins.

Across from the hall is the Treasury, also known as Ankh Michali (Hide and Seek), said to be named for Akbar's playful habit of playing the game with his harem inside the broad rooms and narrow passageways. The deep recesses in the walls, though, suggest that it may have been used as a treasury. Adjacent is the Astrologer's Seat, a platform where Akbar's royal astrologer sat. Pass through the courtyard paved with a board on which Akbar played pachisi (an early form of parcheesi that used slave girls as pieces), into the pavilion centered by the Anup Talao (Peerless Pool), a square pool with a central platform, connected by four bridges. Below the basement of the pavilion is an excavated underground palace whose entrances cleverly concealed it until archaeologists, led by reports from Akbar's day, discovered it. The emperor would come to these rooms, constructed at the center of a water-filled tank, to escape the summer heat. Unearthed within them was the 12-foot-high stone bowl (now displayed on the pavilion) used to store water transported from the Ganges—the only water Akbar would drink. At the edge of the pool is the Turkish Sultana's Pavilion, a charming structure covered with elaborate Persian carvings in floral and zigzag patterns. It is said to have been the home of the emperor's Turkish wife, but was more likely a place to relax by the pool and have a quiet conversation. Separated from the sultana's pavilion as well as from the official buildings of the palace by the Anup Talao are Akbar's private chambers.

The Imperial Harem, where the women of Akbar's household resided, consists of several buildings connected by covered passages and screened from view of the more public areas. The Panch Mahal is a breeze-catching structure with five (panch in Hindi) arcaded stories, each smaller than the one below. Its 176 columns are carved with tiny flowers or other motifs (no two of the first floor's 56 columns have the same design). As Fatehpur Sikri's tallest building, it affords grand views of the city and the surrounding landscape from its upper stories. When the women prayed, they did so behind the screened arches of the Najina Masjid (Small or Jewel Mosque), behind the Panch Mahal across a small garden. The largest residence in the complex is the Gujarati-influenced Jodh Bai Palace, more properly called Principal Haram Sara, because behind its eunuch-guarded entrance lived a number of the emperor's wives rather than just that of his Hindu wife, Jodh Bai. The Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) is a cool vantage point from which women could peek out at the court unseen from beautifully carved stone screens.

The House of Mariam (on a diagonal between Jodh Bai's Palace and the Panch Mahal) is the home of either Akbar's Christian wife or, more likely, his mother. Look for the faded paintings of horses and elephants on the exterior walls. Some of the brackets supporting the eaves are carved with scenes from mythology. Birbal's Palace, which sits a few yards northwest of Jodh Bai's Palace and the Hawa Mahal, was named for the emperor's playfully irreverent Hindu prime minister. Because it's unlikely that he would have lived inside the harem, the Archaeological Survey of India ascribes it to Akbar's two senior wives. The palace's ornamentation makes use of both Hindu and Islamic motifs.

The big open colonnade behind the harem is known as the Royal Stables because the stalls were once thought to have housed elephants and horses; however, it is more likely that it was the quarters of the serving women, and that the open stalls were enclosed by curtains tied to the stone rings once thought to have tethered the animals. At the edge of the city complex, by Sikri Lake, you should be able to see the Hiran Minar tower, decorated with six-pointed stars and hexagons, from which elephant tusks protrude (the originals have been replaced with stone tusks). If it's open, there are 53 steps that take you to the top of the tower, from where you have a bird's-eye view of Fatehpur Sikri.

Follow the path down to the east gate of the Jama Masjid (Imperial Mosque); built around 1571 and designed to hold 10,000 worshippers, it's still in active use. Note the deliberate incorporation of Hindu elements in the design, especially the pillar decorations. The Shahi Darwza (Emperor's Gate) is on the eastern side of the mosque; only the Emperor and his courtiers were allowed to pass through this gate. The sandstone gateway is fully carved in geometrical design, and has two arches, one on top of the other; a lotus-bud motif runs through the smaller arch.

In the courtyard of the Jama Masjid (opposite the Buland Darwaza) lies Salim Chisti's tomb, surrounded by walls of marble lace, each with a different design. Begun upon the saint's death in 1571 and finished nine years later, the tomb was originally faced with red sandstone, but was refinished in marble by Jahangir, the heir Akbar's wife bore after the saint's blessing. From here you can cross the courtyard and exit through the imposing Buland Darwaza. Tombs of those people lucky enough to be buried by the revered saint are in this area. And here is the Buland Darwaza (Great Gate), at the southwestern end of the city. The beautiful inscription etched on it translates to "The world is but a bridge, pass over but build no houses on it." With its beveled walls and inset archways, the southern gate rises 134 feet over a base of steps that raise it another 34 feet, dwarfing everything else in sight. Akbar built it after conquering Gujarat, and it set the style for later gateways, which the Mughals built habitually as symbols of their power.

The various upper stories of Fatehpur Sikri are now closed to visitors because of the proliferation of graffiti.

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Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh  India

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